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Donna Myers Ambrogi: Elder healthcare advocate, lawyer

Elder healthcare advocate, lawyer, educator, two-time Fulbright grant recipient

Donna Myers Ambrogi, beloved aunt, great aunt and friend, died peacefully at her Pilgrim Place apartment in Claremont on the evening of June 8, after an illness of several months.

Born in 1929 in St. Paul, Minnesota, Donna moved with her family to Huntington Park, California in 1941. After her junior year in high school, she entered the University of Chicago, where she earned her bachelor’s degree and later a master’s in social sciences.

A convert to Roman Catholicism, she served as a staff member of the Grail, an international movement of women, originally Roman Catholic and later ecumenical in membership, working at the national Grail center in Loveland, Ohio, then at the Grail’s International Student Center in New York City, and later in Philadelphia. There she founded a contemporary religious art and bookshop and developed ecumenical dialogue groups of Protestant clergy and Catholic lay people.

She was awarded a Fulbright grant in 1957 to study adult education in the Netherlands, where she also helped edit an international Grail publication.

She served as the first Roman Catholic on the staff of both Packard Manse, an ecumenical conference center in Stoughton, Massachusetts, and Scottish Churches House, in Dunblane, Scotland. After studying at the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Institute in Switzerland, the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and the University of San Francisco, she completed her master’s in religious studies. 

She was the first woman on the faculty of the Jesuit School of Theology in Los Gatos, California, and worked in the ecumenical campus ministry at Stanford University from 1967 to 1969.

In 1969 she married Thomas Ambrogi, who had served as a Jesuit priest and a professor on the East Coast. She worked for Comprehensive Health Planning in San Joaquin County while they lived in Stockton, California, where Mr. Ambrogi taught.

In 1973, during a five-month stay in the Middle East, they experienced the Yom Kippur War while living at Tantur Ecumenical Institute outside Jerusalem.

In 1977, at age 48, Ms. Ambrogi graduated from Stanford Law School and pursued a career in public interest law, focusing primarily on elder law, health law and medical ethics. She founded the California Law Center on Long Term Care in San Francisco to assist advocates of the frail elderly through training, publications and legislation. 

She also taught at UC Berkeley School of Social Work, and at the University of La Verne. She helped in the founding of the Older Women’s League (OWL), and served on the boards of the Northern California ACLU, Northern California Hospice Association, the Grey Panthers, and Network Ministries, as well as on national committees of the Grail.

In 1993 the Ambrogis traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to work as volunteers for two years. There she worked with the national Legal Resources Centre and with Black Sash, a women’s anti-apartheid advocacy group. She also trained monitors for the first democratic election in South Africa. While there she received a second Fulbright grant. She considered her time in South Africa as the most challenging and rewarding experience of her life.

The couple moved from San Francisco to Pilgrim Place in 1996. There she continued her advocacy in the areas of aging and health care issues. In 2000 she organized an international conference of older Grail members held in South Africa. She was elected to the California Senior Legislature and co-founded a Consumer Advisory Council for Inter Valley Health Plan. 

She served on the Claremont Aging Committee as well as the boards of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, the Foothill AIDS Project, and the League of Women Voters of the Claremont area. She was a member of the Medical Ethics Committee of Pomona Valley Hospital Medial Center and a faithful volunteer at the Beta Center in Pomona food distribution site, a program of Inland Valley Hope Partners.

Ms. Ambrogi played an active role at Pilgrim Place. Beginning in 2004, she served two terms as a resident member of the board of directors of Pilgrim Place, serving for several years as its secretary.

She developed a health (patient) advocate program, trained numerous residents as advocates, and was twice resident co-chair of Pilgrim Place’s Health Services Advisory Group.

Her beloved husband Thomas died in 2015.

She leaves behind seven nieces and nephews, Elizabeth Krieger, Rachel Clark, Tom Ogren, Paul Ogren, David Ogren, Mary Rose Ogren O’Leary, Barbara Materese, and numerous grandnieces, grandnephews, great-grandnieces, and great-grandnephews.

Family members have written: “Donna was an unassuming genius with a welcoming heart and boundless energy, always seeking to help those in need and to expanding her connections and community. While campaigning with fellow Pilgrims in 2018 for a California congressional candidate, at every door she said, ‘I am 89 years old, and I’m out here because this is the most important election of my life.’ Donna led a life devoted to social justice. As we honor her, let us continue her fight against social and economic injustice, racism, poverty, and bigotry of all kinds.”

A memorial service honoring her life will be held at Pilgrim Place at a future date.

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